Much interest exists today in end-times prophecy and rightfully so. From blood moons to the on-going crisis in the Middle East, to numerous other current events, much discussion persists on what points to Scripture's long ago foretold end-times prophecies. This is as it should be. However, when was the last time you heard a sermon on or read an article on the countless, previously fulfilled prophecies that deal with something other than Jesus? The Old Testament is chock-full of them. (Not to diminish the prophecies related to Jesus, for they forever remain powerful testimonies to the validity of His claim to be the Son of God and should be proclaimed far and wide.) How many of us have struggled to read through the Old Testament books that often seem to speak in excruciatingly detailed or poetic code about the rise and fall of rulers, nations, and empires with difficult to pronounce names? I too once rapidly read through these dissertations, little understanding the incredible, no, phenomenal testimony they brought to the power and sovereignty of Almighty God.
Quite by accident, I discovered the fascinating topic of the historical evidence for the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecies. You see, a number of years ago I was given the daunting task of creating the third grade history curriculum for the classical Christian school at which I taught covering all of Greek and Roman history. Because the school sought to integrate biblical truth throughout its curriculum, I incorporated lessons on the intersection of history and the Bible. The venture opened an intriguing and enlightening door for me of the abundant proofs in the archaeological and historical record that reveal the accuracy of even minute details of biblical prophecy. Just think about it: Hundreds of years before they occurred God revealed to His prophets great detail about people, nations, and events, and now in our modern age we have ancient biblical texts that show the amazing constancy of God's Word across the millenia, as well as an abundance of artifacts and records that confirm that the often bizarre prophecies were indeed fulfilled. This provides hard, unequivocal evidence of the truth of God's unchanging and reliable Word! But, if you're like I used to be, you have no idea about any of it. The treasure is there for any to discover, and I admit; I was hooked. I felt like Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings when he first glimpses the shimmering sea of gold in the dragon, Smaug's treasure hall.
So, long after the curriculum was completed, I began scouring the Bible's detailed prophecies and the historical record. The result of those many months and countless hours of study is a wealth of knowledge that has forever transformed my view of God's sovereignty and repeatedly confirmed the reliability of His Word. The terrible tragedy is that the vast majority of Christians know almost nothing on the topic. In today's post I will attempt to share a glimpse, as that is all a blog post allows for, into the incredible treasure store of the proof of God's work on behalf of man throughout the ages. Read on to discover a look at one example--Isaiah's unbelievable prophecy foretelling the first king of Persia,Cyrus the Great.
Oh, where to start... I suppose Julie Andrew's song in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Sound of Music, provides good advice: "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C ...” So, let me begin with some background on the prophet Isaiah. At a time when the Assyrian empire ruled the world and proved a constant threat to the two divided kingdoms of Israel, Isaiah prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah (between 739-690 B.C). Biblically speaking, Isaiah's prophecies correspond with the second half of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles following the prophet Elisha's work. Isaiah foretold, in general, of the coming destruction of Israel by Assyria but also of Israel's deliverance both in ancient times and again in the end times.
Several prophecies exist in Scripture that foretell of a particular individual that God would use to bring about God's purposes. Usually though, the named individual already exists but has not yet done the foretold task--think, Nebuchadnezzar. In other cases, the mysterious individual does not yet exist, but will be recognized when he comes, not by his name, but by the prophetic description given--think, the antichrist. In only one remarkable instance is the unthinkable done--the prophetic naming of a real historical figure, which God would raise up for a very specific purpose almost two hundred years before that individual's birth. God does this through Isaiah with Cyrus the Great!
Frequently in our culture names have little significance as parents generally choose a name, not because of its meaning but often simply because they like it. In spite of this, the act of naming a child, a pet, or a possession still demonstrates a level of authority, ownership and control over the one named. Not just anyone can name your child. Likewise, the naming of someone by God in the Bible indicates His authority, control, and purpose for that individual --think, Abraham & Sarah or John the Baptist. Even though Cyrus would be a pagan king, God declared His future purposes for Cyrus and actually names him almost two centuries before his birth! Just look at Isaiah 44:27-28 & 45:4-5 to read of God's amazing declaration:
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins’;...28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’”4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,' (ESV)
If you were to read all of chapter 44 & 45, you would see that God is showing off His power. He's allowed to brag and does He ever! He repeatedly gives His credentials as creator and sustainer of the world, as if to squelch any doubt as to whether or not God can fulfill such an incredible feat as the directing of mankind to produce, name, and raise to power one very specific individual at a precise time in history. Just think of all that this would involve. Do you suppose that Satan would do anything in his power to prevent such events from occurring? We know from a secular, Greek historian from the 5th century named Herodotus that such actions were attempted at the time of Cyrus' birth.
Jacob Abbott writes of this birth story in the, History of Cyrus the Great, which follows Herodotus' account. He tells of how the Median king, Aystages, feared the coming offspring of his daughter and so arranged that she should give birth while under his control. The infant was given to a loyal follower, Harpagus, to be killed. Harpagus couldn't do the deed, so he gave the infant to a shepherd (Mitridates) whose wife's newborn had just died. Mitridates left the already-dead baby as if he had been exposed and then kept the newborn prince. Eventually, when Cyrus was 10, the truth came out.
Surprisingly, "When Aystages heard this he rejoiced, and calling Cyrus spoke to him: My son, I did you wrong by reason of a vision in a dream which has not come to pass, but you are yet alive by your own destiny; now therefore go in peace to the land of the Persians" (Herodotus Histories Book 1).
Cyrus then made his way back to his Persian family at its less regal court where he was educated for two years before returning to the splendid Median court. Cyrus said, "For I (Cyrus) seem to have been born by providential fortune."
Later, history confirms the biblical account of King Cyrus conquering what was thought to be Nebuchadnezzar's impenetrable Babylon. Herodotus tells an account of this invasion that shows what a pompous man this Persian king truly was. As Cyrus the Great leads his army towards the city of Babylon, he comes to the banks of the river Gyndes, which could only be passed over by boats. One of the high spirited, so-called "sacred" white horses that accompanied the march decided to cross the river on its own and drowned.
"Cyrus, enraged at the insolence of the river, threatened so to break its strength that in future even women should cross it easily without wetting their knees. Accordingly he put off for a time his attack on Babylon, and, dividing his army into two parts, he marked out by ropes one hundred and eighty trenches on each side of the Gyndes, leading off from it in all directions, and setting his army to dig, some on one side of the river, some on the other, he accomplished his threat by the aid of so great a number of hands" (The Histories I. 189).
Even though the summer was spent digging 360 trenches due to the whim and ego of their ruler, apparently not all was lost. When the army finally came upon Babylon surrounded by insurmountable walls but with a river that ran under it and into the city, Cyrus knew just what to do. He again had his men divert the water so that the river bed leading into the city became a marshy road suitable for soldiers to slip in under the wall while the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar feasted with the nobles of the land. Cyrus the Great then established his father-in-law, Darius the Mede as king of Babylon in his stead.
What would become of the Israelite captives that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar 70 years previously--think Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lions den? Two separate historical accounts record details of the answer to this question. The first is from the Jewish historian, Josephus in The Works of Flavius Josephus. He claims that Cyrus was shown a scroll of Isaiah's prophecy regarding himself, possibly by Daniel. Can you imagine your reaction if someone showed you a prophecy with your name in it that had already been partly fulfilled? Apparently the pompous Cyrus was greatly altered from the knowlege. He had previously had a related vision and was therefore moved when he read the prophecy that had his name in it.
"Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written, and he decided to obey God, free the Jews and do everything he possibly could to help them rebuild their temple, city and walls" (The Works of Flavius Josephus).
All this he would do, as the prophecy stated, without "price or reward, says the Lord of hosts " (Isaiah 45:13).
The biblical account in Ezra 1 of Cyrus' declaration to provide for the return of the Israelite captives to their homeland and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple is also confirmed in a remarkable ancient clay artifact called the Cyrus Cylinder. This archaeological treasure dates from the 6th century and was unearthed in the ancient ruins of Babylon. It tells the history of Cyrus taking over Babylon and makes mention of how Cyrus rebuilt certain religious groups' temples.
Ok, so archaeological and historical accounts confirm the biblical prophecy of Cyrus the Great made almost 200 years before his birth and his providing for the Jews to return to and rebuild the Promised Land. Why should the average Christian consider that pure gold? I'll give you two reasons.
Throughout our world, the validity of the Bible is under attack. Do you know how to answer those attacks whether it be in conversation with others or in the privacy of your own thoughts? People constantly attempt to make us look like fools for believing such an antiquated book is the very infallible word of a supreme being called God. We may be fairly satisfied, by faith, in its truth and the power we have experienced as it speaks to our hearts and minds in a way no other writing can, but the world isn't. I have just given you a mere glimpse of a mountain of evidence that supports what you believe.
Secondly, through the example of Cyrus we discover priceless treasures about God that we desperately need to remember as we journey through this life. As Isaiah 25:1 says, "O, LORD, you are my God. I will exalt you and praise your name. For in perfect faithfulness, you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago." As God proved faithful in fulfilling the orchestration of the rise of and the purpose of a chosen man named Cyrus, so also will our Lord sovereignly fulfill all His promises. To God be the glory!
If you would like to know more on this topic of fulfilled prophecy,
I can offer you several possibilities:
1) If interest is expressed, I'd be happy to write other blog posts
on fulfilled prophecies.
2) If you are a part of a women's group or high school homeschool group, I would be happy to teach, free of charge, a lesson on fulfilled prophecy that women's groups have raved about every time I've taught it.
(I also teach an entire Bible study on this, as well as a retreat.)
Just contact me here to discuss it further.